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One of the major festivals in Sri Mayapur’s busy calendar is surely Jagannath Ratha Yatra – A “Festival of the Heart”. The Lord of the Universe comes out of His temple to give His audience to one and all.
The possibility of rain didn’t prove to be a threat to the enthusiasm of Lord Jagannath’s devotees. Around noon, the day showed signs that it may be a rainy, rainy Festival. Undeterred, the devotees made their way to Rajapur to glorify and celebrate their Lord’s Festival. Remarkably, it didn’t rain for the rest of the procession.
At the Jagannath Mandir at Rajapur, The Deities of Lord Jagannath, Baladev and Subhadra Maharani were carefully placed on Their respective chariots, accompanied by loud kirtan by the PandavaSena Youth Group and Mayapur’s best kirtaniyas. As Lord Jagannath is moved several devotees beat metal gongs in unison. The effect is hair-raising and ear-splitting!
The procession was headed by a variety of floats on which various scenes from the Vaisnava scriptures were depicted by performing artists. They showed great determination to maintain their poses for the entire duration of the procession! Amidst the floats were dancers from various groups, including a group of dancing girls who performed a dance with sticks as they twirled around “Radha” and “Krsna”. A group of drummers lead a marching band as they all played on little bamboo flutes. Mayapur’s two residents elephants also joined the Festival parade and as always drew the attention of the locals. The combination of all these floats, dancers, vibrant kirtan as well as the devotees dressed in their bright and colourful Festival dress made the procession an exhilarating experience to tantalise the senses!
The West Bengal Police and ISKCON security’s management of the crowds must be commended, as they controlled the procession with great efficiency.
At regular intervals, Lord Jagannath was offered a full arati by the pujaris. Wafts of incense-smoke rose slowly into the cool Mayapur air as onlookers watched the worship with rapt attention. Devotees also came forward with abundant offerings of bhoga. Jackfruit, mango, banana, sandesh and sweet-rice seemed to flow in an endless stream to be offered at Jagannath’s lotus feet. Then the maha-prasadam was distributed amongst the very happy, dancing devotees. What was most inspiring to see was that everybody who joined the procession, be he devotee or not, received Lord Jagannath’s mercy in some way or another…
The dancing of the devotees in this year’s Festival was especially attractive to the eye and pleasing to the heart. Simply by watching them, anybody would be inspired to join in and dance. The dancing wasn’t stiff and rigid, but rather carefree and spontaneous. Devotees danced without inhibition. This was their offering for the pleasure of their Lord Jagannath…The separation the devotees had felt whilst Lord Jagannath was recovering from His cold after Snana-yatra was tangible, as expressed in their happily dancing and chanting before His chariot. The Lord of their heart was again visible to their eyes!
As the chariots moved slowly along Bhakti SiddhantaMarga, onlookers, who gazed upon Lord Jagannath’s lotus face were handed maha-prasadam by smiling devotees. At various intervals there were water and juice-stands were friendly devotees distributed much-appreciated thirst-quenchers.
Many people also got the opportunity to touch the rope of the chariots, and a fortunate number also got to pull the ropes. Fortunate souls indeed… Why? The pulling of the chariots is not simply a procession from Rajapur to Mayapur CandrodayaMandir, but there is a deeper meaning behind it… The Jagannath Ratha Yatra Festival has its roots in Jagannath Puri. There, the three chariots carrying Jagannath, Baladev and Subhadra are pulled from Jagannath Mandir to the GundicaMandir. This Jagannath Ratha Yatra Festival is a re-enactment of the first Ratha Yatra. This took place 5000 years ago, when the residents of Vrndavan pulled Jagannath, Baladev and Subhabra-devi from Kuruksetra to Vrndavana.
Srila Prabhupada writes in the purport of Caitanya Caritamrta, Madhya 1.56:
“Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has taught everyone that one should not be overly anxious to see the Lord, but should rather feel separation from Him in ecstasy. It is actually better to feel separation from Him than to desire to see Him face to face. When the gopis of Vrindzvana, the residents of Gokula, met Krishna at Kurukshetra during the solar eclipse, they wanted to take Krishna back to Vrindavana. Sri Krishna Caitanya Mahaprabhu also felt the same ecstasy as soon as He saw Jagannatha in the temple or on the Ratha-yatra car. The gopis of Vrindavana did not like the opulence of Dvaraka. They wanted to take Krishna to the village of Vrindavana and enjoy His company in the groves. This desire was also felt by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and He danced in ecstasy before the Ratha-yatra festival when Lord Jagannatha went to Gundica.”
Showers of blessings in the form of soft rain fell down as the procession reached ISKCON Mayapur Campus. Many, many people lined the street to catch a glimpse of the Lordships. As the procession entered the ISKCON Campus, the kirtan seemed to grow and grow. Words fail to do justice… The Deities were then taken to the Mandir and placed on Their altar inside. This was the GundicaMandir, where Lord Jagannath would now stay for another week. During this time, huge raja-bhoga offerings are made to Lord Jagannath daily, comprising 56 preparations! Every evening there is the sweet singing of the Jagannathastakam, during which time devotees get a chance to offer a lamp to Their Lordships. Some light prasadam is served afterwards.
It is under the guidance of His Divine Grace Srila A.C. Bhaktivendanta Swami Prabhupada that the glorious Jagannath Ratha Yatra Festival – the “Festival of the Heart” – has been introduced to the West.
By His blessings, Ratha Yatra Festivals are held in almost every major city in the world, giving people of all walks of life a chance to glimpse the lotus-like face of the Lord of the Universe. Jaya Jagannath!